Here's London Walks' Pen (and Lensman) David Tucker on the "new" Stonehenge…
Yeah, we went. December 21 last falling on a Saturday – well, it was a perfect fit for the Saturday Great Escape for that day.
A more perfect fit because Stonehenge has been transformed out of all recognition. Well, 27 million pounds worth of transformation. That’s how much English Heritage has sunk into “re-doing” Stonehenge. A new Exhibition Centre of course. But the really big deal is that everything – including that main road that used to thunder right by it – has been moved well away from “the ancient monument”.
So we’re now able to see it in a way that it hasn’t been possible to see it for yonks.
See it in isolation. Right there all by itself on Salisbury Plain. The way “they” saw it thousands of years ago.
The combination of that – and the Winter Solstice – well, I wasn’t going to miss it. Truth be told, I liked the bragging rights. “I was there on the very Winter Solstice when it was possible to see it isolated, see in its pristine state. Instead of across a main road from a car park.”
So, yup, joined the group.
Impressions? That which is likely to “abide”? Well, the roiling skies above (somewhere up there, surely, the gods were having a hammer throwing contest). And the sea of green at our feet and stretching in all directions. And, yes, of course the stones – the sarsens and bluestones and uprights and lintels.
But also the wind. Stonehenge goes back thousands of years. Those people – those generations of people – are on the wind, in the wind. They’re no more.
But the wind…
Well, it’s so many whispers…
And they’re not whispers from July 2013. Or 1930. Or 1066.
They’re BCE whispers. Whispers from thousands of years ago.
But that’s enough auditory. That place, this trip, this time is really about light. In fact, this whole ruddy island and its people and culture and history – these northern climes – the irreducible thing, the filament, is light.
I mean to throw a few more faggots on the Stonehenge Winter Solstice fire, just think of the Yule log. And think of Bede’s sparrow flying through the banqueting hall – outside winter storms are raging but inside it’s warm and there’s light and laughter and fellowship. And think of Turner’s dying words, “God is light.”. Think of Constable painting light, but not vaguely afternoon – or morning or evening – light. Rather, the light of a precise moment, down to the minute really.
Think of Robert Burton’s*, er, whispering in our ear in The Anatomy of Melancholy. What’s needed is “wax candles in the night, neat chambers, good fires in winter, merry companions; for though melancholy persons love to be dark and alone, yet darkness is a great increaser of the humour.”
Well, ladies and gentlemen – let the decreasing of the humour begin.
Here comes the sun!
*Burton fascinates me. He’s that rarest of phenomenon – a great English writer who was pretty much untouched by London. Indeed, he may never have set foot in the place. (Though there is one tantalizing shred of evidence that he may have come to London in 1597 to be treated by the astrologer-doctor Simon Forman for, yes, melancholy.) If you’re looking for Burton, Oxford’s your place. Brasenose College and Christ Church College. Both of which we look at, incidentally – shameless plug here – on our Oxford caper.
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